A good solid evening’s training

Friday was a pretty good day’s training, but that peak performance level felt just out of reach, thanks to various things going sideways.

Early start, got to the range around ten to seven or so, meeting up with Paul at the door of the range. Usual startup – the yoga mat is really helping with the warmup and while going from the cobra to the downward facing dog postures looks daft, it’s really efficient at getting the muscles that you use in position all warmed up. It’s also spectacularly efficient in making you look daft and alarming everyone with the noises it creates…

Cobra pose to Downward facing dog pose
Don't worry, that cracking and popping noise is just your shoulders...

That done, I took a few minutes to run twenty shots through the new chronograph, then got set up for RIKA training. First ten shots were standard, look-where-you’re-going stuff and went really well (would have gone better if the sights had been tweaked though – hardware problem #1):

Training series 1, eyes open

And the RIKA traces showed that this would have been an outstanding string if I’d tweaked those sights. (Again, the RIKA’s calibration is drifting, so watch the traces, not the points of impact, which are almost random at this point):

Composite of RIKA traces
Composite of RIKA traces

RIKA-captured points of impact

Not bad, though getting a bit hinky at the end – shot eight was a bad trigger and shot nine wasn’t great either, but that could have been a decent 96-97 if the sights had been on. I have no idea what happened to shot 6. At all. The RIKA trace was fine, with really good hold, trigger release and follow-through, but the shot was an 8.8. I really, really have no idea what happened there. For all I know it could have been bad ammo (which would be the first time I’ve seen a verifiable case of that in the last few years). Mind you, if it was bad ammo, and it can do that much damage to a really good shot execution, then I really need to get a selection box of pellets and test out sizes (which isn’t that easy in Ireland, but there’s got to be some way to do that…).

Next up was ten shots fired with the target and RIKA screens turned away, and it felt like a decent string – no really hairy shots, all with pretty good holds and good approaches:

Training series 2

Er, wtf? 0.0?

Turns out, the paper tape from the megalink had hit off the RIKA sensor and tripod, doubled back and fed back up into the megalink. End result, one very confused target and the last two shots at least were utter silliness. Still, it started well enough…

So Matt extracted the tape from the target, set everything up again, we fired off a few more rounds in calibration exercises, and then did Matt’s new exercise (well, new to my training plan, anyone from WTSC will remember it as the “shooting at the stars” exercise). The idea is to approach to target and hold as normal, then look off to the right of the target (or left, if you’re a left-handed shooter). You then keep your focus there, maintaining the hold with the periheperal vision only, and then fire and follow-through, all on periheperal vision. The results… were pretty much as you’d expect:

Training series 3, Shooting for the Stars exercise

Traces show it pretty clearly as well – mostly it’s okay, but if the hold wasn’t set up correctly, the NPA heads right off to the right as soon as the focus leaves the target:

But the payoff comes when you take then next few shots after the exercise:

Final training series

Yes, I know, but ignore the last four shots where my back is having fun and my mental focus is being worked on by Matt, Paul and Aisling chatting about rifles in the background (which is disturbingly effective at being disturbing, by the way). All three of the first, focussed shots landed in the same hole and the traces tell the story nicely:

Very tight holds, very clean trigger releases, very even follow-through. No NPA problems. Matt’s exercise really does work on focussing the attention on the NPA during the setup of the position.

So, one week to the next match out in UCD. Three days training left. Almost all of which will be dry-firing and working on Matt’s exercise. And trying to sort out the blinder design – I tried a different kind of tape on the perspex than scotch tape and it worked really well. Trying ordinary sellotape next. There’s a happy medium in here and I’m going to find it…

As to the match itself, the plan’s simple enough:

  • Be on the first detail;
  • Have porridge for breakfast;
  • Get there early;
  • Warm up and set up kit before prep time starts;
  • Check sights for correct apertures for the lighting on the UCDRC range;
  • Check buttplate height as UCDRC’s targets are slightly lower than the WTSC targets;
  • Set up position in relation to shooting stand (as practiced) and dry-fire throughout prep time;
  • Turn away the monitor and only check every few shots for any required changes to sights;
  • Stay hydrated during the match;
  • Tweak rearsight arpeture as required during the match;
  • Use both side blinders and the older earplugs to keep out distracting noises/sights;

The goal is to try to shoot all 60 shots with the right shot routine, the right mental focus, and running all the in-position checks against balance and inner position as I go (I deliberately don’t have a target score in mind for this match, and won’t until I get my new shooting suit).

More blinder work

After a few comments on the blinders made up the last day (thanks to David and Liam), I’ve dumped the 0.25mm PTFE side blinders. The thinness of the material meant that the side blinder wouldn’t stop curling round and that’d get me hauled up by EC on the line 🙁

DIY blinder, front view

So 0.5mm PTFE instead, and all’s well.

Also, I got some new material for the non-aiming eye blinder, 0.5mm perspex. The idea was to try to get the maximum amount of light through (the perspex is transparent). The idea was to get a blinder like Hannah’s here:

Hannah Polak

The problem now is to find a way to fuzz up the image. First attempt is to use scotch tape and doesn’t work too badly, but I’ll keep looking because it lets in as much as the PTFE and if so, why not just use the PTFE.

Blinder, partial obscuring

The single piece of tape doesn’t work quite so well – the alignment has to be just right or it all goes sideways…

Blinder, fully obscured

And when fully obscured, it might as well be PTFE. But it works…

 

Meanwhile, the dry-firing on the RIKA is improving from the last day, but the RIKA’s calibration is drifting to the left within ten rounds 🙁

 

Training series 1 (eyes open)
Training series 1 (eyes open)

 

 

Readjusted calibration and shot the next series with eyes closed for the second either side of trigger release.

 

Training series 2 (eyes closed)

…yup, that was a mistake. D’Oh…

Arrived at the range, stretched (need to buy a yoga mat for this, you wouldn’t believe how dusty the floor of a rifle range can get…) and warmed up, and started shooting with Matt watching. A few dry-fire shots to get settled into position, and then some live shots. And it was fairly obvious within those few shots that the cheekpiece change from yesterday isn’t working. The position felt loose and unstable and imprecise. Rolled the change back, chalked it up to being an idiot. Lesson learnt, a simple quick fix never is!

 

...and back to this again.
...and back to this again.

 

Once that was set back to the original settings (and fine-tuned to get it right), things got somewhat better. The cheekpiece pressure was still there though; but moving the buttplate out on my arm by about a centimetre fixed that, at least for today. Position marked for next time…

 

Edge-of-buttplate position
Edge-of-buttplate position

 

That done, back to the live-firing, and Matt had me focussing on settling properly, first during the pre-aim, then above the target, and only then pausing breathing and letting the target sink onto the target and settle for the shot. The results weren’t too shabby, but lots more practice needed.

 

Training shots, 1-10
Training shots, 1-10

 

 

 

Training shots, 5-14
Training shots, 5-14

 

 

Also found that using braces instead of a belt on the shooting trousers gave better lumbar support – I’m guessing I’d make it to 40 shots before the backache starts now. Need to get a better set of braces than the snickers workwear elasticated set though 😀 The single-shoulder variety that connects to the buttons on the trousers would be perfect…

 

Kurt Thune shooting braces
Kurt Thune shooting braces

 

 

I may have made a mistake…

…or a major improvement. I don’t know yet, and probably won’t know for a week or so.

First of all, I tweaked my buttplate. That change has been a while coming, it was needed and expected and is reversible. Basicly, I just raised the buttplate a little – I was settling into position below the aiming mark too often, and this fixed that. So that’s okay.

Buttplate tweak - not a mistake. Probably.
Buttplate tweak - not a mistake. Probably.

The worry is the other change I made.

After yesterday’s session, and the last few training sessions both with and without Matt watching, I’ve been watching that rightward drift of my NPA and trying to find the cause or to fix it. Turning my feet so that they’re no longer parallel is not really an option, as it compromised my stability. Turning on the spot proved very difficult, and not repeatably consistently. Moving my right foot forward opened my hips to the target line and compromised stability. Moving the buttplate further out along my arm put it firmly on the bicep muscle, which was a recipe for pulse and twitches. The other problem with these solutions was that they didn’t seem to work anyway – that rightward drift kept creeping back in, no matter what I tried.

So last night I try the same exercise as on Tuesday. And I’m in a pretty good state compared to Tuesday, which is good, more data to check. After warm-up and dry-firing, the first ten shots of the exercise (the control group, shot eyes open) go down well:

Control group, shot eyes open

Just two fliers, shot 6 and shot 10. The RIKA is tracking away, but again, the calibration isn’t matching Megalink to RIKA perfectly — this is the same group on the RIKA:

Control group, shot eyes open, as captured by RIKA

So again, watch the individual trace shapes, not their location on the target because the calibration seems to be drifting from shot to shot (other shooters have noticed this on this RIKA unit as well, not just me):

So it’s not bad, the shots all land in the hold area, more or less, and the hold area’s small enough:

 

Control group, shot eyes open, composite of all RIKA traces
Control group, shot eyes open, composite of all RIKA traces
Control group, shot eyes open, RIKA trace analysis
Control group, shot eyes open, RIKA trace analysis

So that’s not a bad control group. Not the best I’ve ever shot, but more than good enough to work with. Tuesday saw a major drift of the NPA to the right when I fired with both eyes closed, but was that because I was having an off day or because of a real issue?

 

Test group, shot eyes shut
Test group, shot eyes shut

Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and call that a real problem. The RIKA agrees (again, the calibration’s off…)

 

Test group, shot eyes shut, as captured by RIKA
Test group, shot eyes shut, as captured by RIKA

 

Test group, shot eyes shut, composite of all RIKA traces
Test group, shot eyes shut, composite of all RIKA traces

 

Test group, shot eyes shut, RIKA trace analysis
Test group, shot eyes shut, RIKA trace analysis

Okay. So that’s a conservative tweak, a good control group, a good test group, a problem clearly spotted, and good data all round. So far so good. Here’s where it gets a bit hinky.

When I drop my head into position, and look through the rearsight on target, I could tell there was something pushing the rifle out of my cheek and trying to rotate it around the axis of the barrel (or a parallel axis a bit lower down). It showed up on Tuesday, and I’ve seen in a match or two in the past, but I had it down as a product of a bad day. But I got to thinking when it showed up today as well (when I wasn’t having a bad day) and I started looking at it, and after some experimenting, I came to the conclusion that the cheekpiece came just a smidge too far out to the left of the rifle, so that when I dropped my head into position initially and compressed the flesh of my cheek, it was okay, but as the flesh decompressed, it pushed the cheekpiece away from my cheekbone.

Solution? Move the cheekpiece.

From this...
From this...
...to this.
...to this.

The angle of the cheekpiece is now shallower, and it has been moved to the right by about four mm. Which doesn’t sound like much, but makes a large difference. It’s also been raised just a smidge to compensate for the angle change, but that’s more a consequence than a change in itself.

The results seemed very promising – the rifle is no longer shoved out of my face, my head’s just sitting there on the cheekpiece comfortably without any side pressure and with the foresight nicely centered in the rearsight. And the RIKA trace shows a good hold with this:

So why the worry? Well, first off, it’s like I said yesterday – changing the rifle setup is a Big Thing™. Having made the change, it’s going to be a week or so before I know I made it correctly (ie. did I move it far enough left or change the angle too much, etc), and longer before I know if it fixed the problem properly. And ideally, I should probably have waited another few sessions first. Dumb rookie mistake.

Hopefully, there’ll be some dumb luck to go with the dumb mistake, and this will lead to an improvement… we’ll find out over the next few sessions… and then there’ll be a few hundred dry-firing cycles to run through to properly bed the change in.

What, you thought a quick change to the rifle would be quick? 😀

Even bad days have some use I guess…

Tuesday was not a great day for my shooting. I was tired and my head wouldn’t settle, and nothing seemed to work right. Still, on with the training, even through the hold wasn’t great (on friday, it’d sit in the nine ring on the rika trace; tuesday, it would maybe hold inside the seven ring.

The exercise was the same as before, shot routine as normal, hold on target, then close eyes, count off a second or so, and then fire. The idea is that if my NPA (Natural Point of Aim for the non-shooters, it’s where the rifle would point if you didn’t deliberately or subconciously try to point it somewhere, and it’s where the aim will be the most stable – we want that in the centre of the target if possible, but because you can be subconciously moving the rifle to the target, it can be hard to spot problems here) is off, then the rifle will head towards the NPA as soon as I close my eyes and the shot and the trace will show me where it’s headed for. Fired ten reasonable shots this way:

Training series, eyes shut

Ouch.

And the traces show the same tale:

Superimposing them all makes it a (bit) clearer (remember, the electronic target and the electronic trainer aren’t perfectly in sync (and in theory never can be), so the points of impact vary a bit, so it’s the shape of the traces you’re looking at:

Rika Traces from 24.05.11, composited

So in each case, as you can see, the rifle heads away from the hold area as soon as I close my eyes, and the shot never lands in the hold area at all. That’s more than a hinky triggering, that’s a hold error right there, and it’s what Matt was talking about (how he could see it, I don’t know – this is why the NCTC think he’s a genius).

But this isn’t the end of the exercise. As you can tell, this was an off day for me even without this. So the results aren’t perfect. Compare the X/Y graphs from tuesday:

Rika X-Y analysis, 24.05.11, composite

to those from Friday:

Rika Traces

You can tell just by looking at how Friday’s graph is so much less noisy that the hold was better that day.

So, not a good day. But the upside is, the problem was more pronounced because of that. Being too unfocussed mentally and too tired physically to cheat the rifle into the ten ring with subconcious muscling means that I could see the problem free and clear.

But what does it look like when I’m not having an off day? And was that off day making a mountain out of a molehill? The data isn’t really exhaustive. And you can’t make a change based on one set of data like this. People do – there are Irish shooters who’ll shoot nine 10s and then a nine, and who’ll haul out the hex key to tweak something on the rifle because of the nine. Changing the rifle, or changing the position or indeed anything about the shot routine, however, isn’t something so small and trivial. If you change even a small thing, it can take hundreds of shots (a) to get the change right and be able to trust it in a match, and (b) to know if the change actually fixed the problem in the first place. So you have to be really conservative and not fix something until you know it’s a problem with the setup instead of faulty execution (of course, if it is a problem with the setup, you then often have to switch gears and be completely unorthodox in finding a solution! 😀 ).

So today, I do this all again, and hopefully it won’t be an off day and my hold will be better this time, and if the results are the same, then it’s time (with my coaches) to try to find a solution…